A health law professor says a belief by some that a medication used to deworm cattle and horses can treat COVID-19 shows how ideology can lead people to embrace misinformation.
Timothy Caulfield from the University of Alberta is a critic of alternative medicine and says it's fascinating to watch people looking for ivermectin.
"This has really become a story of ideology and in group thinking," he said in an interview Tuesday.
"It mirrors what went on with hydroxychloroquine. The evidence against it just became so overwhelming that they have decided to put their energy in a new miracle drug — and that's ivermectin and it's doing real harm.
"It highlights the power of an ideological lens to allow you to embrace information that is clearly wrong."
The manager of an Alberta animal feed store said it has been receiving requests for ivermectin, a drug typically used to treat parasitic worms in livestock. It hasn't been proven as a treatment for COVID-19.
Lance Olson of Lone Star Track and Feed near Calgary said he first started getting calls about the product, which is listed for sale on the company's website, last November.
"We started to address it to our staff just to make sure we were handling these calls the correct way, because we did notice an uptick in calls," he said.
"I'd say at the peak we were doing five or six calls a week. It's slowed down slightly since, but there was an uptick at the beginning of July that forced us to pull it off of our shelves."
Olson said he can't sell the product to people who do not have a premises identification number, which is required to buy products with an active ingredient.
"If you don't have this number, then we can't sell it to you," he said. "It's law now. We cannot sell it to you or else we get fined."
The US Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning on its website against using ivermectin, which comes in a tablet for human use to treat parasitic worms or in topical form for head lice and skin conditions like rosacea.
"Taking large doses of this drug is dangerous and can cause serious harm," the website reads. "If you have a prescription for ivermectin for an FDA-approved use, get it from a legitimate source and take it exactly as prescribed.
"Never use medications intended for animals on yourself. Ivermectin preparations for animals are very different from those approved for humans."
Health Canada also put out an advisory late Tuesday about "concerning reports of the use of veterinary ivermectin" to prevent or treat COVID-19.
"Canadians should never consume health products intended for animals because of the potential serious health dangers posed by them," the federal department said in the statement.
Olson said he never expected there would be such demand for the animal product.
"It seems like people who aren't willing to take or get the vaccine are looking for a viable alternative to help fight (COVID-19)," he said. "Buying ivermectin to ingest it for yourself, especially animal grade which is what we've got, is not good.
"It can potentially be harmful and it's not for human consumption."
Caulfield said there's a disconnect between those who won't get a vaccine, but are willing to ingest a medicine meant for animals.
"It really shows the power that a conspiracy theory mindset can have on how you see the universe," he said.
"On the one hand, we have a vaccine that one could argue is the most studied vaccine in human history ... then on the other hand you have an unproven drug that has been recommended to be avoided by entities like the FDA, and people opt for the latter.
"It is really an incredible disconnect."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 1, 2021.